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Wednesday, August 11, 2010 Column on Painkiller Abuse in the NFL

I have the Viewpoint Column today on and it's an extensive piece on painkiller abuse in the NFL. Here is an excerpt:

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But for the vast majority of players, unless there is reasonable cause, the collective bargaining agreement mandates no testing for the likes of cocaine, marijuana, amphetamine, opiates (morphine and codeine) and phencyclidine (PCP) until April. Over-the-counter pain medicines, such as Tylenol or Aleve, are not tested, nor are prescription pain medicines such as Vicodin, Demerol, Percocet or OxyContin.

By contrast, testing for steroids and illegal performance enhancers occurs throughout the year.

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Given that NFL players are tested for substances of abuse only during the offseason and for steroids throughout the year, while the other two "physical" pro leagues -- the NBA and NHL -- test for substances of abuse throughout their seasons, a cynic might infer that the NFL and NFLPA are more worried about players using steroids to get bigger and stronger than those same players using illegal drugs for treating pain or getting high.

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. . . As NFL players become bigger and stronger, and as their hits and tackles become harder and more injurious, do the NFLPA and the league have an increased responsibility to monitor pain relief? And how can the two determine if players are using painkillers to treat pain or merely to get high?

These won't be easy questions to answer in a sport that requires physical collisions at high speeds and a league that cannot -- and should not -- monitor the lives of its players 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But they are important to ask because pain is a sensory response to bodily damage. If pain is muted, a person may not appreciate the damage inflicted. If that person endures the violence of NFL games week after week, not adequately comprehending bodily damage could cause serious and long-term health problems. These questions are also important to ask because NFL player contracts usually contain more non-guaranteed money than guaranteed, and NFL players are expected to "be tough" and "play hurt." One could easily imagine them feeling pressured to use whatever it takes to stay on the field.

Some in the medical community believe that a rise in painkiller abuse among NFL players could prove uniquely telling. Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and a noted expert on the intersection between sports, medicine and ethics, believes there is a potential and understudied link between painkillers and other controversial injury issues for the NFL, mainly concussions. "Painkillers are one kind of a marker of a level of injury suffered by NFL players," said Caplan. "Their level of use can indicate the toll of the game on players."

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To read the rest, click here.


Excellent post and article! QB Erik Ainge (Jets) is apparently dealing with this issue right now...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/11/2010 12:14 PM  

I think it's more than "playing through the pain"'s financial. These guys know that the window for success in the NFL (and the subsequent millions that will follow)is finite and they're willing to make the sacrifice. I would imagine it's a trade-off: I'll be in pain for the rest of my life, but my family will be set for generations.

Anonymous Coach Dawn -- 8/11/2010 10:50 PM  

Why does the league care about illegal drug use in the first place? They aren't the police. Drugs which confer a competitive advantage may be an issue; but the players getting high in their personal time isn't a sports-related issue.

Is the league also going to verify that the players avoid alcohol? go to bed early? eat a nutritious diet?

Blogger Lior -- 8/12/2010 1:07 PM  

Lior: the answer is "money"--think about it, figure it out yourself

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/12/2010 2:10 PM  

A player playing while injured is, and should be, a serious concern of both the NFL and the NFLPA. That being said, “painkiller abuse” is a very vague statement. Recreational use set aside, the difference between use and abuse is almost impossible to make, and the distinction has to be made individually, on a case by case basis.
Unlike substances such as cocaine, marijuana, amphetamine, and phencyclidine (PCP), and pure opiates; league regulation of opioid analgesics is next to impossible. Opioid analgesics serve a legitimate medical use, unlike the preceding substances. Opioid based passed painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain. While pain is an indicator that something in your body may be damaged, pain may just be pain. For example, a surgically repaired knee can be many years removed from injury, be fully functional, and still hurt like hell from time to time. This is especially true in case of an athlete. This pain however, can be managed with the use of painkillers and/or NSAIDs or steroids (no, not the Barry Bonds kind….). NSAIDs and steroids have side effects such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems. NSAIDs and steroids however, do not have the social stigma that opioid analgesics have. I suppose that can be explained by the fact that you won’t find many people taking a handful of Celebrex chasing a high, but that’s not really my point. Much like the office worker with carpal tunnel syndrome, athletes can manage pain with prescribed medication. Since this is not a determination the athlete can make on his own, it is impossible for the league or union to regulate. The league can test all they want, but simply cannot (in my opinion) regulate the use of a pain killer legally prescribed by a doctor. The use/abuse of non-prescribed controlled substances is fair game for the league.
Perhaps the problem is not the player who plays through the pain (with or without the assistance of a prescribed painkiller), but with the medical professional who cleared him to play, setting aside the old maxim Primum non nocere

Blogger Jimmy H -- 8/14/2010 12:57 AM  

the appreciation is very good on these drugs because I read in findrxonline to vicodin, hydrocodone, Demerol, percocet, are medicines that help control the pain but they will win when athletes anxiety and affects their metabolism.

Anonymous Florida -- 8/30/2010 12:08 PM  

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